Can You Name One Successful Libertarian Country?
The poison of libertarian ideology in the GOP has been gutting America since Reagan. It’s in the category of “failed ideas” like the USSR’s version of communism or Hitler’s fascism.
Libertarian ideology has been gutting America’s middle class and working people ever since it seized the GOP with the Reagan Revolution.
Many, perhaps a majority, of the rightwing billionaires who fund the GOP call themselves “libertarians” — people who think the only legitimate functions of government are the military, the police and the courts (which they are paying to pack).
Many libertarians (and objectivists) will tell you straight-up that “democracy is mob rule” and rant about “the tyranny of the majority.”
It’s the kind of thinking that guided Texas Republicans this past weekend to try to cut the number of polling places and voting machines in minority neighborhoods and then, when the lines to vote are running 7 hours long, to legally block any votes after 9 pm, regardless of how long you’ve been standing in line.
And then to toss into the law, for good measure, that Republican politicians may legally ignore votes from neighborhoods they think are guilty of “fraud” — without examining the evidence — and use that “belief” to overturn elections that don’t turn out the way they want.
Libertarianism and democracy, after all, are incompatible: the people will always vote to have a functioning nation and society, and to tax rich people to pay for the infrastructure that helped make them rich, so libertarians must control the vote itself.
Libertarian ideology — that government should discard all regulation of polluting or otherwise dangerous (banks, etc.) industries, discard all consumer protections, and shred the “social safety net” of Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance, etc. — has completely seized the GOP.
So it’s worth again raising the one question that always stops libertarians dead in their tracks when they come on or call into my radio/TV program to proclaim the wonders of their political ideology:
“Please name one country, anywhere in the world, any time in the last 7000 years, where libertarianism has succeeded and produced general peace and prosperity?”
There literally is none. Nowhere. Not a single one. It has never happened. Ever.
If it had, that country would be on the tip of every Libertarian’s tongue, the way Democratic Socialists talk about Scandinavia where the full-on Social Democracy and regulated capitalism experiment has succeeded for generations.
Doing my show from Copenhagen a few years ago, I had one of that nation’s top conservative politicians on. “So, you’re one of the nation’s leading conservatives,” I said. “I guess that means you want to privatize Denmark’s national healthcare system?”
He blinked a few times, incredulous, and then said, bluntly, “Are you crazy?”
There are, of course, examples of governments that intentionally or unintentionally operate broadly along libertarian lines. Back in the 1980s when I was setting up international relief projects with the Salem organization based out of West Germany, I worked in several such countries.
They were places where the government’s only real function was to run the army, police and the courts, just like libertarians say America should be run. No social safety net, no Social Security, no national healthcare, no or few state-funded public schools, no publicly funded infrastructure of any consequence.
Back in 1981, I went to Uganda to set up a program that still runs there. This excerpt from my diary, later published in my book The Prophet’s Way, gives a glimpse of what we found in a country with a government whose only function at the time was police and the army:
Kampala, covering several square miles, is built on seven hilltops. Before its destruction, it must have been one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Now everywhere are burned-out buildings, broken glass, and tens of thousands of hungry, haunting faces.
Young boys urgently cry out “cigarettes” among the thick crowd. Burlap bags lay empty upon the ground with small piles of tobacco and salt upon them. They are part of sales in the vast, teeming black market. Corrugated metal and cardboard shacks house thousands of people in endless rows of fetid squalor. Urine and rotted waste clog the dirt paths of the market, as we gingerly navigate through the crowd, avoiding mud and pools of overwhelming stench. There has been no running water in this city for over two years. Young children everywhere stagger about in dazed desperation, their parents brought to death by famine, disease, war, and the insane, random murders by soldiers and associates of the former president Idi Amin.
Night is approaching. We must flee the market before the 8 p.m. curfew falls and an army of young soldiers, their rifles puncturing the night sky with staccato bursts of machine-gun fire, fans through the city. …
In the morning we find the bodies of those who could not find shelter before the night descended. During a short walk, Mr. Müller counts nine corpses, huddled in death next to buildings or sprawling naked in the streets.
Everywhere we come upon razed buildings, bullet holes, and the devastated ruins of a once-beautiful country. The first night we stay in a church dormitory with no water or electricity. The only food is white rice and stale white bread. Boiled rainwater is served on request, caught from the gutters, runoff from the roofs. We sleep on small steel cots in cement block rooms. There are half-inch steel bars on the windows, and the massive gray door in our cell has only a small glass-with-embedded-wire window. We are locked in for the night.
In the morning we rise early and leave by 8 a.m. for Mbale, a small town on the fringe of the famine district and the site of a large refugee camp. Our route will take us through miles of jungle and over the waterfall which is the source of the Nile.
We arrive at the Mbale camp just as the sun begins to set, a heavy grayness covering the jungle. Approaching the first cluster of mud huts, we are surrounded by perhaps a hundred people: children, adults, enfeebled elders at the end of their lives. Sweat, urine, and the smoke of hundreds of small twig fires make the air bite and cut into my nose and lungs. The Earth is hard as stone, a red clay, and all about us are littered small bodies — crying, moaning, yelling for food or water, staggering about or sitting, staring emptily. Hunger haunts us as we walk about, incessantly tapping us on the shoulder as everywhere we are brought face to face, hand to hand, skin to skin with the hollow pain of empty bodies and frightened souls.
A toothless, graying woman makes her way slowly through the crowd toward us. Her shuffle is slow, and she seems to wince with every step. Her breasts lie flat and dry, hanging down to a wrinkled and shriveled stomach. She cries out softly to us in Swahili. Rev. James Mbunga, a government official who is accompanying us, interprets: “I am a widow with eight children. As my husband is dead, no one will help or care for me and my children. We shall die. Will you please help us?” A lump fills my throat.
“Soon,” says Mr. Müller gently. “Soon, I promise, we shall return with some food for you.”
As we walk back to our car through the makeshift “village,” night descends. The air becomes cold, and people retreat into their huts. Outside one deserted hut we find three young children lying on a mat, naked to the approaching evening chill. Two of them are nearly dead. Their bodies look like skeletons, swollen heads on shrunken skin, too weak to even lift up or to make a sound. The third, a bit older, lifts himself up with obvious pain and tells his story. Their father is dead, their mother has never returned from a trip looking for food. Tears choke my eyes as we turn and walk away from these dying children. Forcing down the trembling in my throat, I whisper a silent prayer. I recall that back home in the United States today is Thanksgiving.
Tonight Sanford Unger of National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” show has arranged a satellite call to us. He interviews me about the situation in the camps and the bush, and I later learned that the interview ran that night in the US as ATC’s Thanksgiving special. Twice while we’re talking to NPR we’re cut off by the military when Unger asks me questions about troops and the dangers of being shot. …
In 2008, talkshow host Joe Madison (“The Black Eagle” on SiriusXM daily) and I saw similar conditions in South Sudan on the border of Darfur as the northern Sudan government was burning people out of their homes and the group we were with was flooded by tens of thousands of refugees.
In parts of Colombia in the 1980s, after a bomb went off just a block from where we were staying, we heard stories of middle-class men in the next neighborhood over who’d an organized urban “hunt club,” complete with logos and patches, using high-powered rifles to pursue what they described as “feral children.”
Kidnapping was also a major industry in Colombia then: a friend in Bogota was kidnapped and repeatedly raped while her husband, forced to listen to her screams on the phone, frantically tried to raise enough money to pay her ransom. I later met with them both and heard the story firsthand.
In those countries that, because of corruption, civil war or libertarian ideology run along Ayn Rand/Rand Paul libertarian lines, the roads, utilities and housing are fine in small, wealthy neighborhoods that can provide for themselves, but the rest of the country is potholed and dark and people often have to walk miles to get firewood, food and fresh water every day.
There are few or no taxes for the very rich in such countries, and no resources at all for the very poor except those provided by international relief agencies like the one I worked with.
We generally referred to those countries as “failed states.” Rand Paul would probably describe them as “Libertarian paradises,” as his father advocated when, during a presidential primary debate, he said people shouldn’t be let into hospital emergency rooms unless they can pay. “That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” Paul said.
No country has ever succeeded when its government has suffered the fate that multimillionaire K Street Lobbyist Grover Norquist wished on America when he famously told NPR, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
That’s what Texas did when they split their grid away from the rest of America to avoid regulation of their power industry. The lie of libertarian policies was on vivid display earlier this year as Texans died from hypothermia.
And then Texas families who survived got $3,000 to $17,000 power bills because of deregulated “free markets” for power in that state. The profits are going, in part, to billionaire Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, whose energy company’s CFO said of the spike in prices hitting working-class Texans, “This week is like hitting the jackpot with some of these incredible prices!”
The libertarian sociopath streak in GOP politics was on vivid display when the power went down and the now-resigned Republican Mayor of Colorado City, Texas, Tim Boyd, posted to Facebook:
“No one owes you are (sic) your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout! If you don’t have electricity you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe. If you have no water you deal without and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family. If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your (sic) lazy is direct result of your raising! Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish (sic).”
This has been the Republican mantra ever since the Reagan Revolution.
It’s what Trump tried to do to our public health agencies when he first came into office and shut down the pandemic response operations in both the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security. As a result the economy is in shambles, a half-million Americans are dead, and millions more are disabled for life.
When George W. Bush put a Republican-donor horse-show judge in charge of FEMA‘s disaster response, his libertarian attitude pretty much guaranteed thousands of people would die in Hurricane Katrina: “Heckuva job, Brownie.”
The Bush administration also defunded food safety enforcement and the predictable result was an increase in food-borne sickness and death.
At the behest of fossil-fuel billionaire libertarians, Republicans have fought any regulation of the fossil fuel industry for 40 years; the result is climate wilding that’s devastating our country from California to Texas to the Midwest to Miami Beach.
Mitch McConnell and Republicans in the US House and Senate still argue that giving a $1.5 trillion tax cut to billionaires was an appropriate thing for government to do (even though it jacked up the national debt), but using $1.9 trillion to help out average Americans with the pandemic was a crime against our republic.
Americans, increasingly, are figuring out the damage this failed 40-year-long experiment has done to our nation, which is why people are leaving the Republican Party in droves.
There is, however, one group that is still quite enamored of libertarianism: rightwing billionaires and the corporations that made them rich. And quite a few of them have spent the past five decades shoveling cash into the Republican Party, with no sign of a letup to this day.
They set up think tanks and funded hundreds of college professors nationwide to preach their libertarian ideology, and often dominate internet searches because of their thousands of organizations and “news” sites.
They create phony grassroots organizations and got deluded middle-class white people to show up and demand an end to Obamacare with signs like, “Keep Your Damn Government Hands Off My Medicare!”
They set up organizations nationwide and in every state to bring Republican legislators together with lobbyists to craft libertarian “corporate friendly“ legislation that consistently enriches the top 1% and screws average Americans.
They proclaim the wonders of “small government” and “fiscal responsibility,” code words for gutting the protective functions traditionally performed by government and replacing them with “charity” and corporate sponsorships.
And Republican politicians live in fear today of doing anything that might cause government to actually help the American people, because those same libertarian billionaires who fund their campaigns are more than happy to destroy them politically when they stray.
Despite all the obvious disasters and widespread public opposition, they’re still intent on America being their grand experiment to prove that at least one country can operate along libertarian lines.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s when Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand were first pitching this ideology (then called neoliberalism and objectivism) as a way to bring “freedom” to America, they were broadly ridiculed and mostly ignored.
But the libertarian foundations and billionaires got into the act in the 1970s, along with the rightwing media organizations they were then building, putting Ronald Reagan into office and shaping his policies, sending America into a libertarian slide.
Forty years of the Reagan Revolution’s libertarian experiment have brought us the predictable result: historically low tax rates on corporations and billionaires; an impoverished middle-class; devastated labor unions; the highest rate of child poverty and maternal death in the developed world; millions without access to healthcare; one in seven children going to bed hungry; our schools, roads, bridges and rail systems in shambles.
As libertarian regulatory policies threw Texas into crisis and chaos last winter, killing people across the state, it makes perfect sense that Ted Cruz would have taken his family to the Ritz Carlton in Cancun.
After all, when it’s not the job of government to care for its citizens and life has become intolerable because of power failures, it’s time for GOP elected officials to party!
And then make sure that people who love their nation can’t vote — or Republican officials can throw out the peoples’ votes if the GOP doesn’t like the outcome.
The poison of libertarian ideology in the GOP has been gutting America since the Reagan administration. It’s in the category of “failed ideas” like the USSR’s version of communism or Hitler’s fascism; let’s leave it and the GOP behind and fight together to make America a truly pluralistic, egalitarian democratic republic.
Brilliant question, Hahn! I'll toss that one at Charles one of these days when he's next on the show.
In addition to your usual challenge question to your libertarian guests about naming one successful libertarian country, I'd be interested in their response to the question "Prove to me why something that's good for the country and what's profitable are always the same thing, and why something that isn't profitable isn't worth doing"